Falcons coach Dan Quinn says it all the time, and did again in the days leading up to the Vikings game on Sunday: You've got to win the turnover battle.
"I told the team, over the last 50 years, the team that wins the turnover margin, it's a 78 percent win," Quinn said last Thursday.
The Falcons found themselves facing longer and longer odds on Sunday – losing the turnover battle to the Vikings, 3-0, before falling 28-12 in Minneapolis. All three turnovers resulted in Vikings touchdowns.
And Minnesota's first score – a 23-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen – was set up when linebacker Eric Wilson blocked Matt Bosher's punt on the game's opening possession.
Forget that the Falcons piled up more offensive yards than the Vikings, 345 to 269. Or that they had more first downs (27 to 18), ran more plays (67 to 49), were penalized less or that they won the time of possession, 30:13 to 29:47.
None of that mattered because nothing turns the tide like turnovers.
“Across the board we have to take care of the football better than we did today.” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan
Chew on this nugget: Sunday's loss to the Vikings was the first in which the Falcons have lost a game without allowing their opponent to throw for more than 200 yards since 2007. That's right, Kirk Cousins only completed eight of 10 pass attempts for 98 yards and a touchdown.
But let's give credit where credit is due.
The Vikings (1-0) and their stout defensive front – comprised of Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffin, Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen – had a lot to do with forcing those turnovers. So did their linebacker corps, led by Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Minnesota finished with four sacks and harassed Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan all game long.
Ryan completed 33 of his 46 pass attempts for 304 yards and two touchdowns, but he tossed a pair of interceptions and both were picked off Vikings defensive back Anthony Harris.
Ryan's second interception came late in the third quarter with the Falcons trailing 21-0. On second-and-goal on the Vikings' 3-yard line, Ryan tried to throw the ball away, but didn't get enough on the throw. Harris went up and pulled it in along the back of the end zone for a touchback.
"For me, on the second play, I just didn't throw the ball far enough away," Ryan said. "As I pulled up, it kind of stopped, and I just got to throw that ball further out of bounds. Both interceptions today were poor decisions and it cost us. It costs us points. It costs us points in both situations, so I've got to be better than that."
Six plays later, the Vikings went up 28-0 on Dalvin Cook's 7-yard touchdown run up the middle.
The Falcons added a couple of scores late in the fourth quarter, but the outcome was in hand by then.
"To turn the football over early in the game, too, on an interception and leave them a short field, those are things that are difficult to overcome, especially on the road," Ryan said. "Across the board we have to take care of the football better than we did today."
The Falcons fall to 0-1 and will return home to face the Eagles (1-0) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on "Sunday Night Football." An 8:20 pm ET kickoff is scheduled.
Get an inside look at the season opener with top photos from the field in Minnesota | Atlanta Falcons vs. Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.